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Sustainable Life: How to plant a veggie patch with your kids

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Snap off a snow pea, nibble on some kale and squeal in delight at butterflies.

There’s so much for kids to love in a veggie patch (including spraying water from the hose everywhere and making mud pies!).

The joy of planting, growing and harvesting can be experienced at every age. Here’s how to get started on a kids veggie patch.

Step 1: Location, location, location

Most importantly, the veggie patch needs to be in a place where you and your kids want to hang out.

Spring and summer veggies will like a spot that gets plenty of sunlight but is sheltered from the hot afternoon sun.

Too much shade and your veggies will have their growth stunted. Too much sun and they’ll bake on a hot summers day.

Step 2: Create a garden bed full of rich soil

Veggies like to eat lots and lots of organic matter. Most are happiest growing directly out of compost.

In Canberra, consider adding about 20cm of organic matter (compost or veggie soil) across the top of your regular soil, then turning it with a fork to lightly combine the existing soil with your layer of organic matter.

Alternatively, create a raised bed—with straw bales around the side—and fill it with rich soil. Little veggie gardeners can turn the soil with a fork, just make sure they’re wearing gumboots.

They might also like to help by adding a little water to the veggie patch… and making a mud pie, or two, along the way.

Step 3: Get planting

Ask your kids what they’d like to grow and eat. Then, consider veggies that will reward with little work. Here are my top picks in a spring or summer kids veggie patch:

RADISHES

Radishes are fantastic because they’re quick to grow. Plant seeds and just 4–6 weeks later, you’ll be harvesting gorgeous red or white gems from underneath the soil. Kids love harvesting radishes and some kids also love eating them.

RAINBOW CHARD

Great colour and the perfect ingredient for cheese and spinach triangles. Plant seeds and thin them out. Rainbow chard is one of the hardiest veggies, producing heaps of leaves right through until autumn.

PEAS AND BEANS

So delicious when they’re freshly harvested. Plant seeds directly into the soil and pop up a climbing frame. Most varieties can grow to the height of a person, if your frame is high enough.

Sugar snap or snow peas love Canberra’s springtime and don’t mind the frost. Beans, particularly blue lake climbing beans, are perfect in Canberra’s summertime.

A word of warning, they’re frost sensitive, so don’t plant them before the first weekend in November.

PERENNIAL HERBS FROM SEED

Fantastic for exploring new flavours and many produce lovely flowers. Rocket is fast-growing and has a lovely white flower.

Italian and curly leaved parsley can be grown side, by side for flavour comparison and dill has a delicate flavour and lovely, delicate flowers in the summertime.

FLOWERS

A spectacular addition to every veggie patch and a great way to attract pollinating insects to your garden—just wait until after the frost has passed (early November) to get seeds into the ground.

Sunflowers need quite a bit of space per plant (think height) and take a few months to reach full maturity. Kids will love being able to look up, towards a huge sunflower head that came from a seed they planted in the ground.

Marigolds, when planted from seed, can form a thick border around the outside of your veggie patch. They’re also super-easy to grow, and self-seed if you let them reach full maturity.

CHERRY TOMATOES

It’s so much fun to go hunting for ripe cherry tomatoes, amongst the tangle of tomato vines. Choose any variety of small tomatoes, including yellow grape or tiny toms.

For best results, grow your tomatoes next to garden steaks and tie limbs to the steaks, so that you lift the vines off the ground.

Tomatoes are frost sensitive, so grow them from seed in pots near the house. You can also buy seedlings from your local garden store or farmers market and plant them out directly, in early November.

Share the joy of being outside and in the veggie patch with kids…and, just maybe they’ll discover a new vegetable that makes it onto the family menu.

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